Why Am I a Mennonite? Kevin A Graber, April 1999 (United States)
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That's a question that I've often asked myself. There are some quick and obvious answers that come to mind, of course. I'm a Mennonite ethnically because I was born that way. My father's family came from a long line of Amish and Mennonite ancestors. Obviously that had a big part to play in me being brought up in a Mennonite church and my choice to become part of the Mennonite body. So perhaps the right question to ask is "why am I still a Mennonite?"
In order to address this question one must call into question what a Mennonite is. Although descended, to some extent, from the early Anabaptists, the North American Mennonite church of the late 20th century is far from where these pioneers began. It has undergone many changes in context and thus many changes to its structure over the years. Mennonites today in North America are not martyrs, do not die daily for their faith. What beliefs are left?
A keystone in my faith is that Christ did not come to earth merely to die for us, but also to live for us. His life is an example of heaven on earth. To enter the kingdom of heaven, one must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus is a major part of what being a Mennonite is to me. As Menno Simons might have said, faith without works is empty. How can one believe in Jesus, read of his call to discipleship, and still continue living a life of selfishness, not trying to obey his call?
Growing up as a missionary kid I received an early education in global awareness. It was easy to see in the diversity of wealth and poverty that Bolivia had to show that the world was not just. Reading passages in the bible and being taught of God's love for all his children, I wondered about the disparity. Were poor people poor because God didn't love them as much?
That didn't fit into my early conceptualization of God. Christ didn't seem to not love the poor. The Mennonite commitment to serving the meek of the world and working towards a more just society in which all are shown some of God's love appeals to me. Agencies that the Mennonite church has founded and supported such as MCC, MBM and MEDA seem to truly further God's kingdom of heaven on earth. Once again this relates back to works, and Christ's example. Despite seeing the corruption of the world around Him and seeing its fallen state, Christ works towards its redemption. What can we do but follow His example?
Inherent in my original question, "why am I still in the Mennonite church," is a flaw. That assumed as is often assumed in the broader church, especially the Catholic Church, that I am as a child of my parents in the same church that they are in. This is not true in the Mennonite church however. Although I can claim to be "ethnically" Mennonite… a contradiction in itself... I cannot claim to have been a Mennonite until I myself made a conscious decision to become one with the body of believers. This aspect of the Mennonite church is a very important one to me. Although Christ came to die for all, redemption cannot come to those that will not accept it. I cannot say that merely because I exist I am a follower of Christ, if my actions prove contrary to that. Voluntary baptism into a community of believers seems to me to be the only way to go.
Along with the freewill that God gave to the first man and woman, comes the ability to make the wrong decisions. Salvation, even with the death of Christ is not assured. To receive it, we must receive Christ first. Salvation is also an ongoing process. Although one becomes part of the body of believers with their outward sign of water baptism and inward acceptance of Christ, one can later choose to leave that body, and stop following Christ's will.
One early aspect of the Anabaptist faith was that of a priesthood of believers. The scriptures are not handed down to us with meanings already assigned and lack of need for interpretation. If one is to make a conscious decision to follow Christ, they must have the ability to interpret scripture and life themselves, not follow the faith of another.
Pacifism is an essential ideal for me, if I am to truly follow the path of Christ. Throughout all Christ's teachings and examples He stayed true to the theme of love. When asked what the most important commandment was he responded that it was to love the lord God, and secondly to love your neighbor. How can this love be expressed through violence and war? I don't believe that this is a conditional love that was taught, dependant on whether your neighbor loved you back, but rather a love that transcended boundaries of race, gender, station in life and rifts of hatred. For this reason pacifism makes sense to me.
All that I have stated above are beliefs that I hold as part of me, and being a Christian following in the footsteps of Christ. They also reflect ideals that I have seen held up in the Mennonite church today. For these reasons I have chosen to stay with the church of my parents, the Mennonite Church.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.